Guest Meddling: Blades of Victory (Magic 2011)
Not too long ago, I started playing with a group of people at my college on Monday nights. About half the group was newer players, taking their first steps into the world of Magic: the Gathering. These new players ran the gamut in skill level and what cards they had available to them, but one thing remained constant-they all wanted to improve their decks.
Let’s be honest, it’s not very difficult to realize that, say, Bog Raiders and Canyon Minotaurs aren’t winning you any games (the exception being Limited, where both are decent picks, but that is an entirely different beast). However, I constantly find newer players asking for other people to make their decks better, and while I’m certainly all for helping people out, that’s no way to learn!
Today I am taking the M11 Intro Deck Blades of Victory and outlining some simple steps that can be taken to “pump it up.” More importantly, I’ll explain some of the reasoning behind each tweak, to provide a nice basic iullustration on “why this card is better than that one.”
The backbone of almost every deck is its creatures. This is especially true in an aggressive weenie deck like Blades of Victory. Looking at the creature choices, everything is certainly reasonable, but there are some great places where we can optimize. Included in the original deck are one copy each of Silvercoat Lion and War Priest of Thune; an easy change is to replace the cat with another Priest. While the War Priest of Thune is uncommon as opposed to common, most people would be happy to give a newer player a few copies of it, and it is flat-out better than the Silvercoat Lion. Why? Their power and toughness are both the same, but the War Priest allows you to destroy enchantments. It’s a situational ability, but there’s no reason not to have it for when you need it, right?
Palace Guard is an interesting creature, but it does not belong in this deck. If you can get your hands on a couple more Elite Vanguards, those make a fine replacement. The difference here is that one card–Palace Guard–is defensive, while the other is offensive. Since this deck is trying to be fast and aggressive, the cheaper, more attack-oriented creature is a much better choice.
White Knight is another uncommon card that sees only one copy in the original deck, and it’s a strong contender for some more copies. It does cost two white mana, which could possibly cause a snafu if you’ve somehow ended up with lots of Swamps and not enough Plains, but it’s a solid beater with first strike. It’s arguably more useful than the Ajani’s Pridemates here, since we have few ways to gain life.
Looking at the upper end of the curve, we see that hallmark card of Magic, Serra Angel. This is a card that wins games, and there’s no way you should cut them. However, at the same cost of five mana, we see… Siege Mastodon. Now, Siege Mastodon is another example of a perfectly playable card in limited or a defensive deck, but it feels highly out of place here. For one thing, five-drops are very expensive for a deck that wants to put the pressure on fast and furious. Secondly, it just looks ridiculous next to Serra Angel. It’s possible to exchange the elephants for two more Angels, but that’s likely to cause some higher-cost cards to clog up your hand. I suggest instead replacing them with something like Stormfront Pegasus or Wild Griffin. A cheap, flying beater is exactly what this deck needs to help when the ground becomes clogged.
Both of your rare creatures are solid inclusions, and there’s no real reason to gut them. If, however, you manage to come by a big, rare beater like Sun Titan or Baneslayer Angel, then it might be time to cut one to make room.
The spells at your disposal primarily do one of two things. They remove/hinder the opponent’s threats, or they pump up your creatures so that you can kill your opponent more easily. There are some weird outliers here like Mind Rot and Safe Passage, and I suggest you cut both of those to include more copies of more useful spells. Consistency is your friend, and the more copies of a card you include, the more likely you are to draw it when you need it.
Along with the two aforementioned cards, Ajani’s Mantra is horribly out of place. Like the elephants and Palace Guards, this is a defensive card, and while it combos nicely with the Pridemates, you’ve likely already removed those anyway. Duress falls into the same category as Mind Rot, but it’s cheap and allows you to see your opponent’s hand, so it’s a perfectly solid inclusion unless you need to cut it for space.
Armored Ascension is a bit of an outlier in this deck; while it pumps up your creatures, it is an Enchantment- Aura, which means it sticks around, as opposed to Mighty Leap and Inspired Charge, which are both Instants. While the former is stronger and costs more, the latter allows for more flexibility. With play, you’ll probably learn whether you prefer the one-shot boosts or the longer-term ones. If you do like Auras, Rise of the Eldrazi has some great ‘Totem Armor’ ones that offer a one-time protection for your creature, should it be destroyed- Hyena Umbra, in particular, is a great choice.
Pacifism, Condemn, Stabbing Pain, Doom Blade, and Assassinate are all creature removal spells. Again, this is going to come down to personal preference. Some people prefer Doom Blade over Condemn (I myself, for instance), some people use Stabbing Pain more often than Pacifism. It’s mostly preference, but if you like one particular card over one or two of the others, consider swapping in more of the one you like and cutting the ones you don’t. Worst case scenario, you can always put things back.
Honor of the Pure is a great rare Enchantment from M11 that gives all of your white creatures +1/+1. If you are observant, you’ll notice that all of your creatures are white! This is a great card to include, so if you see any, it’s definitely one you’ll want to try to trade for.
Finally, a word about Warlord’s Axe. Generally, this is looked upon as a lackluster equipment card. Unfortunately, it also is in a set that came out mere months before Scars of Mirrodin, which contains lots and lots of wonderful equipment you can choose from to supplement your army. Ones that you’ll probably want to look at include Sylvok Lifestaff, Strider Harness, Bladed Pinions, and Darksteel Axe– any of these would make a fine replacement for Warlord’s Axe, and you could even try swapping some in for your creature enchantments if that’s your kind of thing.
My biggest piece of advice to newer players who want to make their decks better is to not be afraid to try tinkering, swapping, and generally making their decks into Frankenstein’s Monster. Playing with a few changes should let you know if you’re on the right path or not, and it’s a very simple thing to simply undo any changes you’ve made. Finally, if there’s a player you know who plays a lot, especially drafts or tournaments, you could probably ask them nicely for a few uncommons and commons for your deck. Most players have extra ones lying around, and often they’ll be happy to give you a boost and a pointer in the right direction.
Robbie Johnston is a History major and lives in Colorado. In addition to Magic, he has been passionately reviewing YA fiction for over ten years. His personal blog can be found here.